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1 Living with the oceans. – A report on the state of the world's oceans

Global shipping

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Extra Info Key shipping terms in brief

Modern ships – large, fast and highly specialized

Marine innovations have helped to fuel the growth of maritime freight traffic. The following are significant:

SIZE: The average size of ships has increased substantially. Larger vessels reduce the shipping costs per load unit for crew, fuel, demurrage, insurance, servicing and ship maintenance. Port authorities must respond to increasing vessel sizes by expanding port infrastructure (wharfage, transport connections inland) and improving port access (e.g. by deepening fairways). Therefore they too face increasing costs. This can bring the owners – usually the State or local authorities – into financial difficulty: the capital investment is usually funded from the public purse, but the full costs are not passed on to port users.
SPEED: The average speed of a merchant ship is about 15 knots (1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1853 metres per hour), or 28 kilometres per hour, the equivalent of about 670 kilometres a day. Newer ships are capable of 25 to 30 knots (45 to 55 kilometres per hour). Marine propulsion has improved considerably since the inven- tion of the screw propeller, particularly the double propeller. This development reached its peak in the 1970s. Achieving even higher speeds is a challenge and is likely to prove extremely expensive. Experts are therefore predicting only limited increases to average commercial shipping speeds.
8.3 > General cargo ships are in fact shipping specialists. A large proportion of the goods they transport are awkwardly-shaped and bulky, and do not fit into standard containers. Their cargo includes heavy goods and project cargo for major building projects such as power stations, offshore installations and mining. Some pieces of cargo weigh more than 1000 tonnes. © maribus (after Beluga Shipping GmbH) General cargo ship

8.3 > The capacity of the global oil tanker fleet is huge: in 2009 it was 418 million tonnes. This makes oil tankers the most important cargo ships in the global fleet next to bulk carriers. Interestingly pollution from tanker accidents has reduced considerably in past decades, despite the increased volumes of oil transported. This can mainly be traced back to improvements in shipping technology. © maribus (after Schulte Group/www.eiga.de) Oil tanker

8.3 > The total capacity of passenger ships and cruise ships, accounting for only one per cent of the global fleet, is relatively small. Nonetheless the sector is booming and has become a lucrative and growing business for tour companies. Despite the economic crisis the major shipyards are continuing to build bigger and increasingly elaborate ships. © maribus (after TUI Cruises GmbH) Cruise liner

8.3 > The container shipping industry has grown considerably in importance over past decades. Standard container sizes have led to significant savings of time spent on unloading and transferring cargo to trucks and rail. In terms of capacity per ship, container ships left general cargo ships behind long ago.  © maribus (after Rickmers Holding GmbH & Cie. KG) Container ship

8.3 > Bulk carriers, like oil tankers, accounted for 35 per cent of the total capacity of the global fleet in 2009. These ships transport goods such as ores, coal and cereals. The principal routes for ore shipments are from South America to Europe and Japan as well as from Australia to Japan. The major shipping routes for coal are from the major exporters of Australia and South Africa to Western Europe and Japan.  © maribus (after Rickmers Holding GmbH & Cie. KG) Bulk carrier

8.3 > Most of the global merchant fleet consists of five types of ships: general cargo vessels such as heavy load carriers and multi-purpose vessels that transport machinery parts and even yachts; oil tankers; bulk carriers, which are loaded through hatchways; passenger liners, such as cruise ships; and container ships. All other types of vessels, such as vehicle transporters, together account for only about 5 per cent.

DESIGN: Ship design has changed radically – from timber to steel to vessels built mainly of aluminium and composite materials. Design innovations were aimed at dramatically reducing fuel consumption and construction costs while increasing safety at the same time.

SPECIALIZATION: Specialization in the shipbuilding industry has brought massive changes to ocean shipping. Special ships have increasingly been constructed for different types of freight:
  • Tankers for crude oil, petroleum products, chemicals, liquid gas and fruit juice concentrate;
  • Bulk carriers for bulk goods such as ores, coal, grain;
  • Bulk carriers for large-volume unit loads such as motor vehicles and iron;
  • Refrigerated vessels (reefers) for fruit from the Southern Hemisphere;;
  • General cargo ships;
  • Container ships, which are increasingly taking on the tasks of general cargo ships on long-haul routes;
  • Ferries for shipping trucks as well as roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) ships, which carry articulated lorries to drive the cargo onto the ship. These two are taking over the tasks of general cargo vessels on short-haul routes.
By speeding up cargo handling, specialization has been responsible for reducing the costs per transported unit. Where special ships can be utilized to capacity, there- fore, economies of scale have been achieved.

AUTOMATION: Various automation technologies have been introduced to shipbuilding and ship operations, including self-loading/unloading systems, computerized navigation, and the global positioning system (GPS). Automation has markedly reduced the number of crew needed and at the same time substantially improved safety standards. According to data service provider “IHS Fairplay”, total vessel losses (due to accidents or sinking) have declined from more than 200 a year in the mid-1990s to about 150 now – a remarkable improvement in safety when measured against the sharp rise in fleet numbers. Maritime freight traffic was booming for many years. The amount of cargo transported by sea exceeded the 8 billion tonne mark for the first time in 2007. Global shipping had therefore doubled since 1990 (an average annual increase of over 4 per cent). Transport capacity, too, virtually doubled in the same period to almost 33 trillion tonne-miles.
The global recession in 2008/2009 triggered a massive slump in world trade and, accordingly, shipping. Following a modest rise of nearly 3 per cent in 2008 – trade nosedived by about 14 per cent in 2009. Freight rates fell to historic lows on many sub-markets. As at the beginning of 2009 about 9 per cent of bulk carriers worldwide lay idle, unutilized, in ports, this capacity is coming back only slowly to the market in the 2010 recovery. >
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